Friday, February 09, 2007

Akinola at the Metropolitan

The most Rev. Peter Akinola of Nigeria was in New York City late in January making one of his increasingly frequent forays into what he once would have considered enemy territory. Only journalists from religious publications were invited to cover the occasion, at Manhattan's swank Metropolitan Club--which probably suited the Archbishop, who has become wary of the mainstream press since a December New York Times story that advisers feel wrongly portrayed him as a homophobe. But a friend of the Nigerian primate's told TIME that Akinola received a standing ovation ... Akinola, wearing a gray Western suit over his usual purple shirt, clerical collar and 3-in. wooden cross, was the man most of the religiously conservative attendees had come to see.
Anglicanism's great achievement--and one of the reasons people outside the communion may care about its fate--is that since its 16th century origins as a kind of Roman Catholic and Protestant amalgam, it has often seemed like a mini-experiment in what a global Christian church might look like: one that managed to span the distance between incense-saturated Catholic-style rite and tongues-talking low-church Protestantism, that eschewed hyperdetailed doctrinal tests to maintain a looser Christian understanding, adjusted at regular meetings under the low-voltage, first- among-equals leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury. One of the reasons Akinola is both controversial and potentially important is that as the gay issue stretches this understanding past the pain threshold, he is a man unafraid to cut the cord--an uncompromising evangelizer of a sort, more familiar to Americans than to many Anglicans, who is willing to abandon communal solidarity unless it supports a "right" reading of Scripture.
Akinola cheerfully outlines his hopes for CANA--"Hopefully, in another year, we will have two or three, maybe five or 10 more" U.S. bishops, he tells TIME--it is hard not to conclude that he sees American Episcopalians as missionary targets who need to be taught the true Word in much the same way as the Muslims at home.

Will Akinola seek Anglicanism's rupture in Dar es Salaam? The odds are that he will have to put up with one more attempt to avoid it.

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